METAIRIE, La. -- This one has "trap game" written all over it, right?
Not if you ask the New Orleans Saints. Not at this stage of the season.
The Saints (10-3) will play on the road next Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Rams (5-8) -- the first "normal" week they've had in what feels like forever. They played a Thursday night game at Atlanta. Then they got embarrassed in a high-stakes "Monday Night Football" game at Seattle. Then they rallied with an emotional 31-13 win against the Carolina Panthers at home on Sunday night.
So it's natural to wonder if there's any looming threat of an emotional letdown in a lower-profile Week 15 game -- especially on the road. But the Saints insisted Sunday night and Monday that they worked to hard to gain their one-game lead over the Panthers (9-4) in the NFC South. So they aren't eager to surrender that lead one week later.
"I really think that as you get later in the season, each game becomes significantly more important," Saints center Brian de la Puente said Monday. "At this time of the year we know that we control our own destiny and to 'finish' has been a motto for us. We are in the fourth quarter of the season, and we've done a good job in the fourth quarters of the games and closing out games. So I think that we want to close out this regular season and have a good postseason."
"The more we win, the bigger these games are gonna get," safety Roman Harper added. "And that's a good thing. We've gotta get prepared for playoff football."
The Saints also know full well that St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome can suck the life right out of them if they're not careful. As quarterback Drew Brees pointed out on Sunday night, the Rams "beat the brakes off us" when the Saints went there in 2011 (a year that New Orleans finished 13-3). And the Saints barely won at St. Louis against a then-winless Rams team during the Saints' 2009 Super Bowl season.
It's also clear the Saints will be eager to prove they can give an impressive performance on the road. The Saints' home-road split has been a hotter topic than ever this year since they've been so much more dominant at home (7-0) than on the road (3-3, including two narrow victories over losing teams).
Winning inside a dome at St. Louis won't quiet all of the Saints' doubters. But the Saints will be eager to make a statement, regardless.
Coach Sean Payton was terse Monday when asked if the Saints will try to work on anything in particular this week, like communication in a road atmosphere.
"Nothing in particular," Payton said.
De la Puente admitted that playing inside the Superdome is a performance enhancer for the Saints. But he said that doesn't mean they can't have success on the road – where their 24-14 record since 2009 is still the best in the NFL during that span.
"I think that we like to be able to take our show on the road. But definitely playing in the Dome is an advantage," de la Puente said. "And we know that, and teams know that coming in here. It is a difficult place to play. There are unique things that present themselves when you are on the road, and that is part of it, and you just have to go out there and put your best foot forward."